The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
Book by Rachel Sheinkin
Music and Lyrics William Finn
Directed by Kenny Howard
Musical Direction by Julian Bond
Starring Rebecca Fischer and Jeff Lindberg
Beth Marshall Presents
The Garden Theater
Winter Garden, FL
Geeks need love too, or at least acceptance. And where can we find geeks? Oh, they are everywhere in school: marching band, math club, musical theater, and of course at the spelling bees. Everyone needs the trophy, for these kids success of any sort will build up their trampled down egos. William Barfee (Kit Cleto) wants love, Olive Ostrovsky (Kayla Alvarez) wants her dad to shop up for SOME thing, Logainne (Savanah Simerly) whistles though the grave yard of non-traditional parents, and Leaf Coneybear (Eric Desnoyers) is just impressed there’s a world outside of his parents insular free range hippy universe. There are adults, of course. Ms. Perretti (Fischer) is a former spelling bee winner and drops her winning word “Syzygy” at every opportunity, and pronouncing words and giving definitions is dishonorably discharged Vice Principal Panch (Lindberg). Since the cast has to stick around until act two to sing songs, some brave audience mooks are brought up to die early; tonight one tough guy actually got through some of the “get this guy offstage” words I don’t think are even allowed in scrabble.
So who won? That’s not as important as everyone participating, and that’s both the strength and weakness of this show. It is a darling ensemble performance and all the agonies these kids pass thought gnawed at us all. The songs are all solid yet none stand out as show tune hits. Olive’s “The I Love You Song” and Leaf’s “I’m Not that Smart” together offered the most heart, Mr. Barfee’s “My Magic Foot” contends for the oddest, and Ms. Fischer entranced us with “My Favorite Moment of the Bee.” And then Chip Tolentine’s (Ricky Cona) “My Unfortunate Erection” won the title of “Song we’d most like to hear at a cabaret.” It got everyone’s attention, and of course we all ridiculed him for it. It’s the grade school thing to do. Lastly I’ll point up Anachebe Asomugha’s great work as Mitch Mahoney, the Comfort Counselor, utility parent and on stage bouncer. A large man, he speaks for many in the same positon with “Prayer of the Comfort Counselor.”
The staging is simple, the music upbeat, and the message is positive but most importantly we all had fun. School’ s distant memory but the rejections from those days often stick around long after they should but here’s a spelling bee that levels the playing field for the smart and socially maladaptive. Cheer them on, and if you’re on stage and get too many words right, be aware they may dump “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” on your head.